Several days ago Rose asked how soon before Valentine’s Day. “I guess we’ll spend it alone,” she sighed, looking at me with the same half serious/half joking way she uses when she says she likes to touch my wrinkles. I sat there thinking that she still had a few days to find someone in those hormone-filled halls of seventh grade, but I doubted that the free website Plenty of Fish was going to offer up much for me. My romantic experiences for this day in mid-February peaked at 16 and have been downhill since then.
I had two boyfriends at the same time that year, not that I admitted it, even to myself, and definitely not to them. My justification was that one was a boyfriend and the other just a friend and if the boy who was a friend didn’t realize that, then who was I to have to say it in so many words? It was all going well, the boyfriend taking me to football games and school dances, while the friend was driving me (dare I say here that he was older and had his own car?) to Sunday evening youth group while taking lots and lots of photos of me, telling me how beautiful and great I was….. I can see that you’re starting to think less of me now, but I was sixteen—sixteen!
And then Valentine’s Day came along. My boyfriend, a box of chocolates in hand, got a friend to drive us to my house. My mother opened the door and smiled like a prince had arrived (I seldom had a boyfriend that she didn’t like more than I did) but seemed oddly flustered. Come to find out, she had rushed to hide the dozen red and pink rose buds that my just-a-friend had sent. I spent the evening finding excuses to walk back and forth in front of the table where these two offerings were proudly displayed. Although the chocolates were from my “real” boyfriend, what I remember most clearly is how beautiful those rosebuds were, how lovely that combination of pink and red and green. And, no, in terms of romance for February 14th, it never again got as good as that.
Recently I was sorting through the boxes brought back from my mother’s house after her passing, now just over two years. Some were filled with things I had kept. I found a grade school valentine “mailbag”, the construction paper yellow and faded, my name written in cursive on part of a paper doily. Among the cards inside was one that had this:
DEAR ANN Yor are my girlfriend. I think you look good in those red pants that you war on Monday but I am not sure. Art liks you too. Love DOUGLAS
I guess maybe there was an earlier time that I managed to have two guys at once, but I have no memory of Douglas or Art, just a memory of carefully cutting out those red hearts to glue onto that extra-large paper envelope, a memory of that wonderfully innocent anticipation of what I would later find inside.
My mother had kept almost every card she ever received, as I discovered while digging through more boxes. There were Valentines from sisters, nieces and nephews, my brother and me, my father who loved to pick the ones that might be called sappy, yet I know he meant every word. In those many cards one caught my eye. It was an especially beautiful one, full of pink roses, some in full bloom, some still small buds. Then I remembered how my mother gave it to Rose, telling her to send it to someone special, but I had forgotten who she finally mailed it to. Inside, under a big lopsided heart, was written:
Dear grandma thank you
for the card did you
have a grat New Year?
I have made a display of some of these cards, and as I did all those years ago, I take great pleasure in looking at the offering in pinks and reds and greens. And I will not be alone on Valentines’ Day. I will send out my own cards, designed from an encaustic painting I did, a bird sitting on a branch among bright berries. I expect to receive some as well—from three friends who never fail to remember how much I like this day, my daughters (I’d better start dropping those necessary not-so-subtle hints), a cousin who always calls me Annie, perhaps even an e-card from an old boyfriend.
“Be My Valentine” may be a trite expression for an over commercialized day with a card designed for everyone. But there’s something of real value underneath those words, and the idea that it can be said to anyone holds a great truth. Love is not limited to some romantic idea. In fact, it’s not meant to be limited at all.